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The Growth of Functional Medicine

prescribing life

When I created Desert Health 10 years ago, one of the primary objectives was to elevate the work of our valley’s naturopathic doctors. Their philosophy of identifying the root cause of disease versus simply treating symptoms and “whole- person care” approach, taking time to understand and address lifestyle patterns, is significantly more effective than the typical 15-minute leave-with-a-prescription doctor visit. Their work teaches individuals how to live healthier lives and their messages deserved a credible platform. 

A vision for Desert Health was to offer a medium where these professionals could co-exist with our renowned medical community in offering health and wellness advice.

Today, more and more medical doctors are adopting the naturopathic philosophy and functional, or integrative, medicine is on the rise, especially here in the Coachella Valley. 

This is great news for consumers who gain more personalized care options, and for our country’s overall health care system.

What is driving the shift for physicians?

Chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes, account for 86 percent of health care costs in our country.1 The rise in functional medicine stems from new evidence-based research confirming that such conditions are preventable – and even reversible – through nutrition and lifestyle changes. 

But in the traditional health care model, doctors don’t have the time, or often the knowledge, to offer wellness advice to patients who return again and again with the same ailments. This is frustrating for many. 

A 2017 study entitled Integrative Physician Market Landscape interviewed more than 1,100 integrative MDs and DOs and identified the top five reasons doctors became functional practitioners: 1) treating root causes versus symptoms, 2) treating the patient as a whole being, 3) focusing on optimal health versus disease management, 4) a personalized approach emphasizing the physician-patient relationship, 5) accounting for patient lifestyle and environment.

“In this past decade, we’ve learned more about human biology than we ever knew before,” says Joseph Scherger, MD, who has been practicing family medicine for 40 years. “I shifted from conventional to functional medicine when I learned that unhealthy nutrition and lifestyle were the cause of most chronic diseases, and that those diseases were reversible with change.” First he healed himself, and then he started healing his patients without drugs. Teaming with physiologist Arnel Sator, PTA, Scherger has recently formed Restore Health Disease Reversal in Indian Wells while still practicing primary care at Eisenhower Health. 

Megan Stone, DO of Stone Functional Medicine in Palm Desert also worked as a family medicine doctor prior to starting her functional practice. “I started to realize there’s got to be something more to medicine than just waiting for disease to show up and then repeatedly treating it the same way, hoping it wouldn’t get worse,” she says. “We (the medical community) were missing the boat when it comes to keeping people well. Studying functional medicine has completely changed my view on how I approach both disease and health with my patients.” She is proud to be a part of the growing movement of doctors changing the landscape of how medicine is practiced. “Even better, I help empower patients to take their health back.” 

“Anyone distressed about the state of health care in America need look no further than this inspiring community of integrative physicians for hope,” says Yadim Medore, Founder and CEO of Pure Branding which conducted the 2017 physician study. “These cutting-edge doctors are at the forefront of a paradigm shift in medicine…” 

How are functional medicine appointments different?

The report states that on average, integrative doctors spend at least twice as much time with their patients than conventional doctors. They standardly review not only medical history, but also foods, supplements and possibly the mind-body practices  applied (or not) to help manage stress. They review current medications and labs and may request additional, more in-depth labs before recommending diet adjustments and supplements. Mind-body practices may be discussed, along with appropriate exercise that works for their patient’s current physical state.

Are costs covered by insurance?

Most functional medicine practices do not accept insurance or Medicare. Labs are standardly covered and office visit invoices can sometimes be submitted to insurance companies directly by patients for reimbursement. 

Investing in your health is certainly a conundrum at a time when insurance costs continue to rise. But as we are learning, those with underlying chronic conditions are experiencing worse outcomes in this pandemic than those without. You simply need to ask yourself what you are willing to pay for better health because in the end, it’s really all that matters. 

Lou Alcalay, 90, of Palm Desert has worked with Sator and Scherger of the Restore Health team individually for several years. “When I first started, I could hardly walk,” he says. “They changed my diet and put me on a balance and exercise routine and look at me now! I feel better than I did at 70.” 

Lauren Del Sarto is founder and publisher of Desert Health and can be reached at Lauren@DesertHealthNews.com.

References: 1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5798200/

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